More than 900 people across Assam have been arrested in an overnight drive as part of the state government’s second crackdown against child marriage this year, with more people likely to be arrested in the coming days.
The 916 people have been arrested across the length and breadth of the state, with police saying 706 FIRs have been registered as part of this drive, and 1,041 people have been named as accused. Of those arrested, 551 are men accused of marrying underage girls, 351 are relatives of either the husband or wife, and 14 are religious functionaries who had solemnised these marriages.
While the arrests so far have taken place in 31 of 35 police districts and Kamrup (Metro), which Guwahati city comes under, the highest number of arrests were witnessed in Dhubri and Barpeta districts at 192 and 142 respectively, followed by Hailakandi (59), Kamrup (50) and Karimganj (47).
Superintendent of Police, Barpeta, Amitava Sinha said that all 142 who had been arrested in the district were picked up during the night. “We had collected the information from a number sources, including panchayat secretaries appointed as child marriage prohibition officers during the last drive. Different sources in the community came forward with a lot of names, and arrests were initiated after gathering all the information,” he said.
A police official in Nagaon district, where 30 people have been arrested, said the accused had been rounded from their homes.
In February this year, the Assam government had launched an unprecedented punitive crackdown against child marriage in the state in which 3,141 people were arrested over a month. Like this time, those arrested included men who had married underage girls, as well as family members and religious leaders who facilitated these.
An analysis by The Indian Express of records of those arrested in the last crackdown had shown that 62.24% of those arrested were Muslims while the rest were Hindus or people from other communities.
While most of those arrested in the last crackdown had been booked under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, along with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, records accessed by The Indian Express had shown that 62% of those arrested had already been granted bail by the end of February.
Masud Zaman, a lawyer based in Dhubri, has represented 18 families that faced arrests in the last crackdown. He said that all had been granted bail, and that now, eight have recently received summons from courts since the chargesheet has been filed. He said he does not anticipate that there will be convictions under POCSO in these cases.
“The wives have not given their statement under Section 164 of the IPC before a magistrate in any of the cases, so we have to see how these cases will stand,” he said.
Aman Wadud, founder of ASD Legal & Associates, a law firm based in Guwahati representing the accused in more than 20 cases from the last crackdown, said all their clients have been granted bail.
“The courts had been by and large sympathetic during the course of bail hearings… Most of the chargesheets have now been filed. However, in some of these cases, while the chargesheets have been filed under POCSO, the court has not framed charges under POCSO, and only under the child marriage act instead,” he said.